Peter Schlör | Light Shift. Going deep inside landscape photography
by Bruna Esperi
in Focus on Europe
Jan 28, 2014
Peter Schlör’s solo exhibition at Landes Galerie Linz is just finished, but I would like to direct your special attention to the “Light Shift” works. Artist Peter Schlör made a name for himself with his peculiar style of black-and-white photography. For more than two decades he investigates natural light. Landscapes, deserted houses and towns generate in the spectator a disturbing perception, due to the abstraction of his photography. He captures the particularly delicate effects of light, and transports the romanticism of nature back into a new vision of the world, that is not a simple transposition, but a conscious construction, made by the author thanks to his contemplative work.
German photo artist Peter Schlör displays digital black-and-white photographs of Volcanic landscapes from Canary Islands and Central Anatolian Cappadocia. As we can read in the introduction of the exhibition catalogue – written by Gabriele Spindler, artistic director of Landesgalerie Linz – the special lighting effect in Peter Schlör’s photography is strongly related to 17th-century Dutch landscape painting. Schlör’s recent works are compared with landscape paintings by Flemish and Dutch masters of 16th and 17th century. The peculiarity is in its recording; especially in the handling of light, he parallels to the famous masterpieces of landscape painters. Light is the main topic of Schlör’s work and is actually a pondered and meditative transposition of what we can reach from reality. When in his high-contrast black-and-white digital photographs Peter Schlör invokes the Flemish masters, there are two reasons for this. On the one side, Schlör’s photographs are oriented on a rough grid governing the distribution of light and shadow. On the other, they are conceived from the outset as abstract structures whose figural elements are only gradually revealed.
Out of his patient observation of the reflections play of the sun and clouds, the artist creates light-filled landscapes in which mountains, trees, fields and houses come into view. This sensitive handling of light has distinguished Schlör’s work for more than two decades. In his most recent compositions as well, elements unnoticed at first glance gradually emerge in what initially seemed to be abstract black-and-white fields. Landscape in Turkey or the Canary Islands that was at first perceived as «untamed nature» turns out to be a civilized landscape – attesting to the intervention of human hands. By harking back to the grand tradition of landscape painting, Peter Schlör restores photography of its original description as «héliogravure,» or drawing with light. Schlör tries to show the actual photographs in their abstract appearance. The image needs to be detected at first glance, in its abstraction . Only upon approach and close inspection should it open up to its figurative nature.
His current work phase does not correspond to the conceptual despite technical subtleties consideration, but arises from the purely intuitive acquisition and processing of light states, which are given by nature. Seeing in its own process and perceiving without judgment are prerequisites for artistic realization, in which the Light is also an expression of subjective perception. The artist uses natural phenomena – the ocean, clouds and forests – in order to attain a picturesque surface in his images. One can thus associate Schlör with the tradition of pictorialism, to which photographers like Alfred Stieglitz belonged.
I had the pleasure to ask Peter Schlör some questions during his exhibition.
Bruna Esperi: By looking at your portfolio and taking into consideration your past works exhibited in solo shows such as “Deep Black,” “High Light” and “Black & Wide,” one seems to notice that in your photos the contrast between black and white dissolves over time until reaching an abstraction of landscape photography, as we can see in in the current exhibition “Light Shift.”
Peter Schlör: I’m always interested in essences. I like to show the essence of things, that come into shape by the dialog between me and the landscapes I stand in front of. By balancing or matching the inner and outer space, I receive images of individual and universal character at the same time. I think, the more we are surrounded by complex things of our civilization, the more we are thirsting for simplicity which means nothing but abstraction. And abstraction is something I have been focusing on from the beginning of my work. Inherently the transformation of a colourful landscape into levels of gray is an abstraction. It marks the second step of black and white photography after interpreting reality as a two-dimensional plot. I think, if you like to take a look behind the surface of so called reality, it is necessary, to give up the idea of finding specified moments. The more we hold on to a specified theme, the less we are able to receive an totally unexpected moment. I never want to “take“ a picture – I even think, that this is impossible. It´s not a recording, but an appreciation of a landscape, I stand in front of. If you like to appreciate light in nature, it´s necessary to give up all expectations first. So I always seek to clear my mind first. When you look at something, without judging and expecting, the abstract forms become visible. That´s how it works for me.
At all the places where I have been taking pictures, the light can sometimes change very quickly indeed and illuminate sections of the landscape in a highly differentiated manner: the clouds with their highly varied repertoire of forms interact with the sun to achieve the effects of diffusers, reflectors, spotlights, brighteners, shades, masks and cropping frames. Together with the light of the sun, they combine to give the landscape its plastic form, and they are what render visible the different contours and their structures with their broad range of tonalities. At one and the same moment, this light lends individual parts of a landscape a spatial plasticity, while other areas appear quite flat in contrast to sections that seem to have an almost infinite depth. Sharply focused and diffuse light alternates within a single image, so that the transitions from light to shadow tend to exhibit very subtle nuances. Considered in this way, my photographs are ‘snapshots’ – analogous to sketches by those painters who, when looking at their drawings, always needed to have an internalized account of the play of light in its entirety before their eyes in order to transfer this into their compositions.
B. E. “Light Shift” features digital black-and-white photographs of Volcanic landscapes of the Canary Islands and Central Anatolian Cappadocia. In these photographs, we can also recognize universal leitmotifs, such as houses or settlements. What interested you in each of these landscapes, which are somehow similar places? Why did you decide to bring them together in this show?
P. S. My photographs are oriented on a rough grid governing the distribution of light and shadow. As I already said, the photographs are conceived from the outset as abstract structures whose figural elements are only gradually revealed. Out of my observation of the play of reflections of sun and clouds, I show light-filled landscapes in which mountains, trees, fields and particularly houses come into view. Houses and settlements as symbols of human social culture have been standing in the centre of my work from the beginning. In my most recent compositions, that you can see in this show, such elements that might be unnoticed at first glance gradually emerge in what initially seemed to be abstract black-and-white fields. The landscape in Turkey or the Canary Islands that was at first perceived as “untamed nature” turns out to be a civilized landscape – attesting to the intervention of human hands.
Peter Schlör’s large-format photographs impressively demonstrate that the image of a landscape is shaped not only by the materiality, structure and configuration of its natural forms, but also principally by light. They evoke the unconscious perception of symbolic images. For the photographer, they are archetypes or typologies of forms of dwellings that people repeatedly seek for, regardless of cultural and social backgrounds. They imply refuge, home, withdrawal, isolation, housing, and the living things that connect people with one another. Peter Schlör’s photographs require patience and perseverance to light – in its constant change as well as in its constant action – observation and recording. The spectators have to share this aptitude in order to establish a deep relationship with his work.
Peter Schlör, Light Shift, Landes Galerie Linz, Linz, 28 November 2013- 12 January 2014.